Toyota Hires Entire Staff of Autonomous-Vehicle Firm

Toyota Motor Corp. looking to gain an edge in the auto industry's race for technology talent, has recruited the staff at a small Massachusetts-based autonomous-vehicle company to work on its advanced projects.

The move reflects a trend among auto industry companies, including car-hailing and other fast-growing startups, to rapidly build their research and development skills by taking over small and specialized companies, or raiding a company's workforce. In cases like Toyota's, the acquisitions aren't hostile.

Toyota hired Jaybridge Robotics Inc.'s 16 employees, including software and hardware engineers, the auto maker disclosed on Wednesday. Jaybridge Chief Executive Jeremy Brown said in a news release its staff will help the Japanese auto giant "reduce the nearly 1.25 million traffic fatalities each year."

Executives weren't immediately available to comment. It was unclear if Jaybridge, a seven-year-old company that spun out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will continue to operate. Toyota said it didn't buy the company. Jaybridge employees will become part of the Toyota Research Institute.

Toyota last year pledged to invest $1 billion into artificial intelligence research, with a big focus on autonomous vehicles. TRI is run by Gill Pratt, a former MIT professor and program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. With the latest hirings, TRI now has about 40 employees, many of whom are graduates of MIT and Stanford University.

The Jaybridge group "brings decades of experience developing, testing, and supporting autonomous vehicle products which perfectly complements the world-class research team at TRI," Mr. Pratt said in a statement.

Last year, Uber Technologies Inc. hired 40 scientists, engineers and professors from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, in what is becoming a common tactic to recruit for a rare skill set.

The competition for talent in robotics and software engineering, particularly geared toward vehicle autonomy, is so fierce that it has led to recruiting battles in Silicon Valley. Elon Musk, chief executive of electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc., used his Twitter account and 2 million followers to recruit for his autonomous vehicle program.

General Motors Co., in December bought the assets of a ride-sharing company, Sidecar, and hired 20 of its employees to work out of its Silicon Valley office.

Andrew Moore, the dean of Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science, said the college was sent scrambling for staff after the Uber mass-hire in 2015, but the exposure for its top-level programs paid big dividends a year later.

Enrollment in CMU's computer science program rose 35% in the fall of 2015 compared with the previous year, and its robotics program enrollment rose 30%. The school hired 17 new faculty members.

Mr. Moore said the school has had to adjust its employment agreements to allow professors to leave for business ventures with hopes of them returning after a few years.

"There is definitely a world-wide battle for talent," said Mr. Moore, who was a Google Inc. engineering vice president before his CMU appointment. "In the computer science world right now, administrators and leadership are becoming more like recruiters for high-powered sports teams or executives." Mike Ramsey/The Wall Street Journal

Leave a Reply